A CUP OF KINDNESS
Langley Tiberius Zyne was old.
(A tug at my elbow and a small voice, “Who?” “Zyne,” I replied, “ Zee-why-en-ee, sounds like ‘mine’.”)
The hands of long years had clutched him firmly, painting his tangled hair with frost, as well as his stubbled cheeks, and particularly his long, unkempt moustache. They bent his back and touched his joints with aches on these cold days near the end of the year. As a young boy, most had called him Lang. Most of them were now dead and gone, remaining only as hollow whispers in his dreams.
(“Did he dream a lot?” “Yes.” “Were they nice dreams?” “Not always.”)
He lived in a run-down cabin in the woods, near a pond fed by a stream. The water was stiff now, congealed as in a photograph. He posted his small parcel with signs: “No Hunting!” but these were pocked with rifle shots left by poachers in their contempt.
(“Why did they shoot his signs?” “Oh, some men do very mean and thoughtless things, particularly if they have guns in their hands.” “Why?” “Look, do you want a story or not?” “Yes.” “Then listen, I’m telling you one.” Silence for now.)
His hobby was carving. He had made a living as a carpenter, a very good one, too. But times were bad, and no one needed an old carpenter, so he retreated to his cabin. He cleared the woods of fallen trees in the spring and summer. He had a shed where he dried his wood, some for the fireplace, the nicer pieces for whittling. He could carve just about any thing: birds, animals, small furniture with drawers and doors that really worked. He liked to carve miniatures, particularly with wheels that went ‘round and ‘round.
(“Could he carve a train? I like trains.” “Yes, he carved trains, too.”)
He stayed by himself mostly, visiting the village only now and then to buy flour, coffee, and sugar. He would also buy a newspaper, which he read carefully at home, particularly page two, with the obituaries to see whether or not he had died.
(“Had he died?” “Not in the ones he read.”)
In early December he read that the state had cut the funds for the orphanage. Lang puzzled over that. Earlier in the year the new state capital had been completed, at an over-run cost. Why hadn’t they been more careful in how they spent their money? The article had no clue.
That night, he could not sleep. He remembered his own childhood. Things were better then, he thought. His father worked hard at the mill, his mother tended the home and kept everyone safe, and warm, and fed. Mind you, though, there was never much money in the house, just enough for essentials, such as taxes, but it never was a concern.
(“Did they have a car? What kind was it?” “No, this happened a long time ago and very few families had cars.” “But there were trains?” “Yes, there were trains.”)
Then he had an idea. As soon as he thought of it, he went right to sleep and awoke the next morning eager to start on his project. He got out his tools, went to the shed and picked out the very nicest pieces of wood. He worked all day, and the next, and the one after that. In fact he worked through the winter solstice because he still was not done.
(“What’s the winter stole sis?” “Solstice, the winter solstice is the beginning of the winter season, and has the shortest day and longest night of the year. It’s one of my favorite times.”)
At last he was satisfied. Before him was a large pile of his best carvings. They were beautiful! He got a large burlap sack and put everything in it. He got the sled out of the shed, the one he used to haul firewood into the cabin, and put the bag on it.
As night fell, swift and silently, he started to pull his load through the woods toward the town. By the time he arrived at his destination, the town was as quiet as a lamb’s breath. All had gone to sleep. All the better, he thought.
(“Why? What was he going to do?” “You’ll find out in just a minute.” There was a young frown of concern.)
The orphanage was at the far end of the village. No one saw Lang with his laden sled. When he reached the old building there was only a small light on inside, so the mice could see their way around without bumping into things and making noise. Lang lifted the sack and put it by the front door. On the sack he attached a note, “For the children.” He knocked loudly on the door and then ran with his sled into the shadows. Someone opened the door and gasped in surprise! It was Mrs. Mildew, the mistress of the establishment. She called inside for help and her assistant, fat as a beagle, bustled to help her take in the sack. Lang smiled and went home.
(“Did they know who gave the kids their toys?” “Not a soul. It was a mystery. The rumor spread through the village was that the banker had purchased the toys, but when confronted he admitted he knew nothing about it.”)
To this day no one but you and I know who was so kind that night.
(“What should we do about it? Tell everyone?” “No, I have a better idea.”)
I have prepared hot chocolate just the way you like it. It’s quite hot, so be careful. What we shall do is propose a toast.
(“We’re going to throw toast at something?” “No, a toast is a tribute completed with a favorite beverage.”)
And here it is, my dear. Hold up your cup, so. When I am finished with the words, we drink:
We’ll drink a cup of kindness, yet
For old Lang Zine!